The Elder Scrolls series is infamous for two things: open-world, immersive role-playing games (RPGs), and minor technical issues that prevent the games from being flawless in their execution. While Skyrim — the fifth and newest game in the series — contains some of the flaws of its predecessors, it soars to new heights with its impeccable graphics, fluid combat and immersive gameplay.
Skyrim is the name of the northern realm of Tamriel, the world of the Elder Scrolls series. With a new land comes a new threat — dragons. This game draws on a theme that’s dominant throughout fantasy fiction — when a great evil arises an even greater champion will rise to defeat it. Here’s where you come in.
Though it is based on previous ideas, this realm has more of a pulse. From roads to buildings, to flora and fauna, Skyrim has a weathered, worn look to it. Developer Bethesda has created a world that feels millennia old. It’s rich and realized with a diversity in its locales, revealing the care that went into its development. From underground dwarven cities forged of magic and machines, to wintry castles of ancient power atop lofty peaks, to cities carved with their own history and personality, the sheer scope of the vision makes all other RPGs pale in comparison. The world has a darker, lived-in feel to it, heralding back to the mood and motifs found in Morrowwind (Elder Scrolls III) for the original Xbox.
Each locale is teeming with life. Thieves and thanes, riders and wraiths, the superhuman and the supernatural, all blend seamlessly to make the world of Skyrim come to life. Impeccably voiced and beautifully crafted, the people, animals, and creatures of Skyrim are what give it its true life. One could say that this is much of what audiences have come to expect from the Elder Scrolls series, but the weaving of stories and elements from the Elder Scrolls history and the stories arising from within — combined with the 100-plus hours of gameplay — will pull you into the game in a way no other game has in years.
Settings and characters aside, it’s the gameplay that truly inspires. This is a game — a world — of distraction in the most wonderful sense. Begin on one quest — for instance, finding your destiny as a “dragonborn” to purge the land of those fateful beasts — and it will quickly be left aside as you move through the world and speak to the people. It might be an ancient tomb you discover on your travels, a man in the shadows placating your darker side, or a letter of mystery handed to you by a local courier, but something will take you from the well-beaten path and into the unknown. True to tradition, any door can be opened, any object stolen, any person aided or pickpocketed, depending on your choices. It’s choice that allows Skyrim to outshine any RPG in the last decade.
Unlike some of the bulky elements of previous games in the series, the design of the menus and shortcuts allow for quick and easy manipulation and tracking of your various quests, powers, weapons and items. Also added to the formula is dual wielding which, at first, seems to be a common addition to any sequel. In Skyrim, though, it not only allows you to be more diversified and fluid as a warrior, it brings more choices into the mix.
Is the game the pinnacle of perfection? Alas, no. To be faithful, one must admit its flaws. As beautiful as the world of Skyrim is, the textures can break down in their eloquence when inspected up close. Faces are still rather stony in their expressions, though comparatively better than Oblivion. There are also moments where technical issues emerge: a companion will disappear, you’ll fall through the floor, a game may freeze at times. The good news is that not only are these instances extremely rare, but given the sheer size of Skyrim in both land and quests, they become virtually invisible.
Once in a while, amidst the barrage of games, a single game emerges as something special, where just the right balance of personalization and power sinuously blend with graphics and gameplay to create an amazing gaming experience. Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is one of these games. It will certainly win a variety of game of the year titles. However I will bestow a new title: game of the decade.
When he’s not teaching junior high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.